The Unsolved Murder of the Ormesher Sisters

Discussion in 'More Case Discussion Forums' started by nacentaeons, May 19, 2019.

  1. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    I wrote a Wikipedia article on an obscure, unsolved double murder that I haven’t seen covered in many places. As I wrote the entire article I believe that it is entirely appropriate to simply copy and paste the whole thing here. However, if this causes any issues please delete this post.

    Murder of the Ormesher Sisters - Wikipedia

    The Murder of the Ormesher Sisters

    The murder of the Ormesher Sisters took place in Ormskirk, Lancashire, England in 1956. Despite national media coverage and an extensive investigation, in which all of the adult male population of the town were fingerprinted, the identity of the murderer or murderers has never been established. The investigation remains open and, as of March 2015, the case remains one of fifteen unsolved murders being investigated by Lancashire Police.

    Background

    Sisters Margaret Jane Ormesher (68) and Mary Ormesher (67) had lived in Ormskirk all their lives. Margret and Mary were born to Edward and Emma Ormesher and had two other sisters called Ellen and May.

    Margaret and Mary were spinsters and were both diminutive in stature at less than five feet tall. The sisters were described as ‘harmless’ and ‘helpful’ and were well known in the market town. They ran a tobacconists and sweetshop on Church Street, one of the main streets of the town. Mary was known as ‘Auntie Polly’ to friends and customers.

    Residence

    At the time of the murder, the sisters resided at ‘Ivy Dene’ (sometimes styled Ivydene), 8 Asmall Lane, Ormskirk which was formerly the Brick Makers Arms. The sisters father, Edward Ormesher had once run the John Bull beer house on Chapel Street, Ormskirk which was described as the worst in the town before losing its licence. Edward Ormesher and his wife then became licensees at The Brickmakers Arms pub on Asmall Lane, Ormskirk and when that pub also lost its licence it was closed and the building was converted to a dwelling within which the Ormesher family continued to live.

    The property was a ten room house with a rear yard and a separate, communal courtyard behind. The courtyard, known as the Brickmakers Arms Yard, was accessed via a passage between no’s 6 and 8 Asmall Lane and contained several small dwellings. The Brickmakers Arms Yard was overlooked by cottages number one and two on one side and number three to seven along the back.


    Security routine

    Mary Ormesher had been advised, almost six years prior to her murder, to put her money in a bank or have someone accompany her on the walk home. Mrs Josephine Mary Whitehouse had lived above the sisters’ shop on Church Street with her husband John Frederick Whitehouse for six years. Mrs Whitehouse had accompanied Mary home every night, without incident, for almost six years. Whitehouse always walked Mary up to the front door (which was bolted from the inside) and it was then opened by Margret as Mary did not have a front door key.

    The sisters always kept the back door of Ivy Dene locked however, Mary had told Josephine Whitehouse that Margret had a bad habit of opening the back door if she heard a sound. The sisters sometimes went to bed as late as 1 am.

    Day of the murder

    On the evening of Saturday, 5 May 1956 Mary walked the 0.7 mile, (approx 15 min) journey home from the shop alone. She had with her a brown attaché case, which was used to carry the shop takings, which contained the whole week’s takings of £150.

    On 5 May 1956 Mrs Whitehouse went to Southport with her husband and when she returned home she found the shop padlocked and Mary appeared to have gone home alone. This was the first night in almost six years that Mary had walked home alone.

    Mary arrived home between 10:10pm and 10:25pm. Sunset was 8:49pm and her walk home was dimly lit by gas street lamps. She was witnessed by a neighbour carrying the brown attaché case in her right hand and an unidentified object in her left hand. There were no reports of her being followed home.

    At 10.18pm, another neighbour was returning to his house in Brickmakers Arms Yard and saw an unidentified male across the road from the Yard. Sometime later, another neighbour left his house via the front door to go across the road to run errand, returning at 11.20pm he did not report seeing or hearing anyone or anything.

    At around 11.15pm and 11.30pm, according to the findings of the inquiry, several neighbours stated that they heard a variety of noises, which included groans, male and female voices, breaking glass and bin lids clattering all emanating from the sisters home. Neighbours at numbers two and three Brickmakers Arms Yard heard these noises but dismissed them at the time as not of a serious nature and went back to bed.

    Discovery

    At 10:30am on Sunday 6 May 1956 Mrs Whitehouse took a cup of tea to the shop for Mary and found it locked. An hour later she became concerned and walked to Ivy Dene and knocked on the front door. At around 11:50 Whitehouse sought the help of a Thomas Patrick Cummins who was standing outside his house, 6 Asmall Lane, and they walked round to the back of Ivy Dene. They went into the yard and when Whitehouse saw blood she screamed. Mr Cummins pushed open the back door of the dwelling, looked inside, and told Whitehouse ‘You go back’. Cummins entered the house and after two or three minutes he emerged and declared ‘They are past aid. It is a police case.’

    The sisters’ battered and bloody bodies lay in the kitchen wearing their usual attire which included cardigans and jumpers. There was evidence that a violent struggle had taken place with serious injuries to the sisters’ head and upper body. The murder weapons were a large brass kitchen poker with the head removed, two brass candlesticks and a wine bottle. The poker had been bent and the bases of the candlesticks broken with the force of the attack.

    The attaché case was found open on the kitchen table. Only one of the two cash bags were taken, the remaining one contained £50 in silver meaning that around £100 was missing (worth around £2,300 in 2017). The only clue left by the murderer at the scene was a bloodied fingerprint, for which, a match was never found.

    Initial investigation

    The autopsy was performed by Dr George B Manning of the Home Office Forensic Science Laboratory, Preston. Manning stated that the sisters’ death had occurred at around midnight, had been very violent and that they had been killed with a great deal of force.

    Police assumed that the killer knocked at the back door and did not enter the house, as several hundred pounds was stored, piled up in boxes, within.

    Police went from house to house in pairs, eventually covering the whole town, questioning residents on whether they had seen Mary walking home, whether anyone was following her or whether any strangers had been witnessed that night. The police took fingerprints of every male aged over 18 in Ormskirk without finding a match to the fingerprint left at the murder scene.

    Police believe that it was an open secret that sisters took their takings home with them. Police had been aware of plot to rob the sisters 18 months before the murder but had simply advised the sisters to be careful. Local rumours were that sisters kept a fortune in grandfather clock in kitchen, however police searched the house and found only a small amount of silver. There was no evidence that the house had been ransacked. Police refuted claims that the sisters were moneylenders, stating that they had simply made a small number of loans to business owning friends in the past. The murder became national news and the Ormskirk Advertiser put up a £50 reward for information.

    Rumours circulated in the town of a district nurse in the neighbouring village of Halsall attending to a heavily bloodied man on the night of the murders.

    The sisters had provided accommodation to evacuees from the Liverpool blitz during World War II and police made a check on the names of people who stayed with them or on Asmall Lane. A week after the murder the police made inquiries at the pubs and dancehalls frequented by Teddy Boys who visited the town from Merseyside.

    No arrests were ever made in connection with the murder.

    Subsequent investigations

    One weekend in February 1983 a unidentified individual made a telephone call to a Manchester newspaper and made a claim to know the identity of the murderer. It is believed the call came from a man aged in his 70s who regretted withholding vital facts for many years. The newspaper passed the information to Lancashire CID. The identified murder suspect was investigated but this did not lead to a conviction and police did not provide any further information.
     
    Iona, Laughing, Satchie and 15 others like this.
  2. dotr

    dotr Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    26,972
    Likes Received:
    21,191
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
  3. blankenship

    blankenship Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    339
    Trophy Points:
    53
    This is a fascinating case, even moreso than most historical unsolveds. Thanks!!
     
    Iona, nyonge, perfectingpink and 4 others like this.
  4. Keine Engel

    Keine Engel Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    644
    Likes Received:
    3,839
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Thank you!

    I'm in the U.K. & can quite honestly say I've never heard about this case until I read this^ :(

    (I'm sure your post is o.k. if not I doubt anyone interested has any problem linking to wiki :))

    Anyway (for reference) here's another link with an in-depth account of the murders (also it has a couple of pics)

    Ormskirk Bygone Times
    Sixty Years On: Part 1
    Sixty Years On: Part 1
     
    Iona, Laughing, MerBeach and 5 others like this.
  5. Keine Engel

    Keine Engel Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    644
    Likes Received:
    3,839
    Trophy Points:
    93
  6. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    Thanks for taking an interest in this post.

    I have a contemporary transcript of the coroners inquiry so I will add some information to the Wikipedia article as I can.

    That student video, unfortunately, has a number of factual errors.

    Others have mentioned the possibility that the murderer may have been a woman, hence them escaping the blanket police search. It seems that the attack would have required a large amount of physical strength however.
     
  7. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    I also live in the UK, in fact less than an hour away from Ormskirk, and I had never heard of this until a couple of weeks ago.
     
  8. blankenship

    blankenship Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    339
    Trophy Points:
    53
    An interesting aside, the "orm" prefix (Ormesher, Ormskirk) is from Old Norse "ormr," which means dragon or serpent.
     
    Laughing, Redgoblin, MerBeach and 4 others like this.
  9. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    So Ormskirk means Dragons Church? Having been there that is a far far more exciting name than the place deserves. It is a very sleepy place.
     
  10. blankenship

    blankenship Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    339
    Trophy Points:
    53
    The name is Old Norse in origin and is derived from Ormres kirkja, from a personal name, Ormr (which means "serpent" or dragon), and the Old Norse word kirkja for church. Ormr may have been a Viking who settled here, became a Christian and founded the church but there are no other records or archaeological evidence to support this and Ormr's identity is unknown.

    There is no reference to Ormskirk in the Domesday Book of 1086, but it has been suggested that it may have been part of Lathom at that time.[9] In about 1189, the lord of Lathom granted the church of Ormskirk to Burscough Priory, which does suggest that Ormskirk had been subordinate to Lathom before that date. Ormskirk - Wikipedia
     
  11. sallye818

    sallye818 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,022
    Likes Received:
    798
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Someone got away with murder!

    Three thoughts (since all males over 18 were fingerprinted):

    1) There were two killers and one was a female accomplice, thus the fingerprint not matching any males

    2) The killer(s) was a male UNDER age 18

    3) The killer got out of Dodge (or Ormskirk, as it were) fast with the money he got

    I do wonder why all of the money was not taken, and/or they truly had a fortune stashed and some or all of it was indeed taken...but no one knew where it was stored, so it wasn't accounted for as "stolen" or "missing".
     
    Laughing, MerBeach, dotr and 2 others like this.
  12. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    Paraphrased extract from inquiry report:

    James B Houghton (11) of 37 Asmall Lane (located opposite the junction between Whiterails Drive and Asmall Lane) told the inquiry that he had seen an unidentified individual acting suspiciously on three consecutive nights. The first sighting was at 10:10pm on Wednesday 2 May 1956. The unidentified individual was leaning on a bicycle against a hedge at the corner of Asmall Lane and Whiterails Drive and was looking down Asmall Lane in the direction of the junction with Halsall Lane. The boy stated that he believed he had seen the same person doing the same activity on the following two nights, Thursday 4 May and Friday 5 May. The person, believed to be a man, was described as being 5ft tall, of medium build with a longish face and high cheekbones. Their face was clean shaven and they had long, dark hair hanging over their forehead. The person was wearing a light-coloured double breasted macintosh fastened with a belt and grey trousers. The bicycle, which looked fairly new, was a light-blue racing bike with drop handlebars and white mudguards.

    (Added to wiki)
     
    MerBeach, dotr and Choochoobella like this.
  13. blankenship

    blankenship Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    339
    Trophy Points:
    53
    Even 60+ years ago a height of five feet for an adult male would have been unusual to the degree it would be a distinguishing characteristic.
     
    dotr, tesni and Choochoobella like this.
  14. blankenship

    blankenship Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    339
    Trophy Points:
    53
    Liverpool is under 20 miles away - not to mention Formby, Bickerstaffe, Wigan, etc. etc. Plenty of possibilities for that fingerprint nearby.
     
    Laughing and dotr like this.
  15. KariKae

    KariKae Active Member

    Messages:
    620
    Likes Received:
    251
    Trophy Points:
    43
    It is very coincidental that the night with no escort was the night the sisters were murdered. I couldn't tell if Mrs Whitehouse was late or if Mary left the shop early. Could somebody have lured her out of the shop without waiting for her friend?

    My gut says it was somebody local or very close to the sisters. Any nieces/nephews who know where money was (supposedly) kept in the house?
     
    Laughing and dotr like this.
  16. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    I believe the two other sisters died young and I think Mrs Whitehouse was late that night.
     
    dotr likes this.
  17. blankenship

    blankenship Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    91
    Likes Received:
    339
    Trophy Points:
    53
    Barring the late discovery of genetic evidence, this case is almost certainly unsolvable. (Which adds to its allure!)
     
    dotr likes this.
  18. Satchie

    Satchie Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    2,821
    Likes Received:
    5,862
    Trophy Points:
    113
    It reminds me of the Clutter family murders, that inspired In Cold Blood. The perps heard from someone in prison, who had worked briefly for Clutter, that there was lots of money in the isolated home, in a safe. But there was no safe, they went on a killing rampage instead.

    The coincidence of the escort being away that one day is remarkable. And yet, it appears the robbery wasn't the result of the lack of an escort. That leads me to a suspicion that the escort might have been away, or been kept away, because of prior knowledge of what was going to happen, and not wanting to be associated with it.

    I would want to ask the escort, and her husband, some questions: why was the wife always the escort, and never the husband? Did she discuss the routine, and the women's vulnerability with her husband? Did either discuss the routine, and these women's vulnerability with other people? Why were they late getting back that day?

    In a small, close knit town, I don't think it would be easy for a violent murderer to live amongst the others. Everybody knows everyone's business, suspicions would be cast. I think it was most likely outsiders, unknown to the townspeople, but who had information about these women and their cash.

    ETA: the robber(s) may have demanded the hidden cash, but the women refused. After the killings, the robber(s) may have been too scared to stay and search for the hidden cash.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2019
  19. nacentaeons

    nacentaeons Member

    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    13
    This is an excellent comment. It may have been that Mr Whitehouse tipped someone off either deliberately or inadvertently and deliberately delayed their return from Southport. Incidentally, the sisters' shop was demolished not long after the murder. There is reference to it being condemned for a long time (before the murder) and it was only demolished after the people living there had been found alternative accommodation. It seems likely that this refers to Mr & Mrs Whitehouse.
     
    Satchie, Laughing and dotr like this.

Share This Page



  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice